Spread the word to end the use of the R-word

By Allyson Meyer

We’ve all said things we immediately regret or used words without realizing their impact. Words have many meanings and connotations, yet we rarely take the time to thoughtfully consider the consequences of the ones we use in our everyday speech.

Many of us have heard about the campaigns to rid our language of the R-word, but how many people actually understand the meaning behind this word?

According to the website R-WORD, focused on spreading the word to end the word, “The R-word is the word ‘retard(ed)’. . . [it] hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory.”

In the definition from Britannica Academic Edition, it is defined as “slow or limited . . . intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.”

In today’s society, the R-word has become a term to define people who are seen as different. The use of it is a derogatory slight toward a person who is considered an outcast or unusual.

On the R-WORD website, Joseph Franklin, a Special Olympics Athlete, says the word leads to the feeling that, “the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be.”

Sara Mitton, a Board Member for the Treasure Valley Down Syndrome Association, states that “Because the word has become a casual description of anything negative or flawed, [it] is no longer considered an appropriate way to describe people with intellectual disabilities.”

She adds, even if the R-word is not directed at someone with intellectual disabilities, the nature and original use of the word associates it with those individuals. Because of this, any usage of the word, even in jest, is discriminatory and a hurtful continuation of a stereotype and hate speech.

Throughout the United States, there is a call to “Spread the Word to End the Word.” It is described as “an on-going effort to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word.”

It encourages communities to pledge to remove the R-word from their speech and to work toward creating an environment that helps those with intellectual and developmental disabilities thrive.

On the Special Olympics North Carolina website, the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign calls for society to stop and think about it’s use of the R-word.

It is said to cause pain for millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those who are affected by them. It is a form of hate speech and should not be accepted or tolerated within our society.

Because of this, the campaign calls for the word to be replaced with “respect” in an effort to create “a more accepting world for people . . . that may appear different, but have unique gifts and talents to share with the world.”

In 2009 the bill, Rosa’s Law, was introduced to Congress. Its aim was to eliminate the use of the R-word in certain laws. The bill was passed by Congress on Jan. 5, 2010.

According to the CNN article by Madison Park, “Congress Eliminates the R-word,” the Bill addresses and eliminates the use of it in “health, education and labor laws.”

Even with the move toward a wider acceptance of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there are still those who see even more room for improvement. In the 2011 Gallup article “Europeans Most Open to Those With Intellectual Disabilities”, and subsequent polls concerning this openness, Gallup assesses the most accepting places for those with disabilities.

Overall, the world is seen by only 55 percent of those polled in 2010 from 112 countries, as a good place for those with intellectual disabilities to live.

With this room for improvement, many see educating the public about the harmful effects the R-word has on those with intellectual disabilities and society as a whole as a step toward mutual respect.
As a campus dedicated to acceptance and being the changemakers of the future, we should strive to be inclusive to all individuals and prove we are leaders.

According to Disability Services at USD, “We also strive to serve the broader University community by raising awareness of the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. We also facilitate dialog about issues of diversity and inclusion and promote respect for the unique needs, challenges, strengths and contributions of community members.”

Even our own university is taking initiatives toward making the world more inclusive of those with disabilities.

Spreading love through the elimination of hateful speech is a step toward making the world better. It is important to take it upon ourselves to be the change we want to see in the world, making it an accepting and tolerant place for everyone.

Think first, then speak. Recognize the harmful nature of words and how best to spread respect, not hate.